Skip navigation

Philosophy of Science and Technology

Objectivity has a history, and it is full of surprises. In Objectivity, Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison chart the emergence of objectivity in the mid-nineteenth-century sciences—and show how the concept differs from its alternatives, truth-to-nature and trained judgment. This is a story of lofty epistemic ideals fused with workaday practices in the making of scientific images.

objectivity2.jpg From the eighteenth through the early twenty-first centuries, the images that reveal the deepest commitments of the empirical sciences—from anatomy to crystallography—are those featured in scientific atlases, the compendia that teach practitioners what is worth looking at and how to look at it. Galison and Daston use atlas images to uncover a hidden history of scientific objectivity and its rivals. Whether an atlas maker idealizes an image to capture the essentials in the name of truth-to-nature or refuses to erase even the most incidental detail in the name of objectivity or highlights patterns in the name of trained judgment is a decision enforced by an ethos as well as by an epistemology.

As Daston and Galison argue, atlases shape the subjects as well as the objects of science. To pursue objectivity—or truth-to-nature or trained judgment—is simultaneously to cultivate a distinctive scientific self wherein knowing and knower converge. Moreover, the very point at which they visibly converge is in the very act of seeing not as a separate individual but as a member of a particular scientific community. Embedded in the atlas image, therefore, are the traces of consequential choices about knowledge, persona, and collective sight. Objectivity is a book addressed to anyone interested in the elusive and crucial notion of objectivity—and in what it means to peer into the world scientifically.

Innovation in a Fragile Future

Curiosity is the main driving force behind scientific activity. Scientific curiosity, insatiable in its explorations, does not know what it will find, or where it will lead. Science needs autonomy to cultivate this kind of untrammeled curiosity; innovation, however, responds to the needs and desires of society. Innovation, argues influential European science studies scholar Helga Nowotny, tames the passion of science, harnessing it to produce “deliverables.” Science brings uncertainties; innovation successfully copes with them. Society calls for both the passion for knowledge and its taming. This ambivalence, Nowotny contends, is an inevitable result of modernity. In Insatiable Curiosity, Nowotny explores the strands of the often unexpected intertwining of science and technology and society. Uncertainty arises, she writes, from an oversupply of knowledge. The quest for innovation is society’s response to the uncertainties that come with scientific and technological achievement. Our dilemma is how to balance the immense but unpredictable potential of science and technology with our acknowledgement that not everything that can be done should be done. We can escape the old polarities of utopias and dystopias, writes Nowotny, by accepting our ambivalence--as a legacy of modernism and a positive cultural resource.

Essays in Technology and Modernity

The technologies, markets, and administrations of today’s knowledge society are in crisis. We face recurring disasters in every domain: climate change, energy shortages, economic meltdown. The system is broken, despite everything the technocrats claim to know about science, technology, and economics. These problems are exacerbated by the fact that today powerful technologies have unforeseen effects that disrupt everyday life; the new masters of technology are not restrained by the lessons of experience, and accelerate change to the point where society is in constant turmoil. In Between Reason and Experience, leading philosopher of technology Andrew Feenberg makes a case for the interdependence of reason--scientific knowledge, technical rationality--and experience. Feenberg examines different aspects of the tangled relationship between technology and society from the perspective of critical theory of technology, an approach he has pioneered over the past twenty years. Feenberg points to two examples of democratic interventions into technology: the Internet (in which user initiative has influenced design) and the environmental movement (in which science coordinates with protest and policy). He examines methodological applications of critical theory of technology to the case of the French Minitel computing network and to the relationship between national culture and technology in Japan. Finally, Feenberg considers the philosophies of technology of Heidegger, Habermas, Latour, and Marcuse. The gradual extension of democracy into the technical sphere, Feenberg argues, is one of the great political transformations of our time.

Building our Sociotechnical Future

Technological change does not happen in a vacuum; decisions about which technologies to develop, fund, market, and use engage ideas about values as well as calculations of costs and benefits. This anthology focuses on the interconnections of technology, society, and values. It offers writings by authorities as varied as Freeman Dyson, Laurence Lessig, Bruno Latour, and Judy Wajcman that will introduce readers to recent thinking about technology and provide them with conceptual tools, a theoretical framework, and knowledge to help understand how technology shapes society and how society shapes technology. It offers readers a new perspective on such current issues as globalization, the balance between security and privacy, environmental justice, and poverty in the developing world. The careful ordering of the selections and the editors’ introductions give Technology and Society a coherence and flow that is unusual in anthologies. The book is suitable for use in undergraduate courses in STS and other disciplines. The selections begin with predictions of the future that range from forecasts of technological utopia to cautionary tales. These are followed by writings that explore the complexity of sociotechnical systems, presenting a picture of how technology and society work in step, shaping and being shaped by one another. Finally, the book goes back to considerations of the future, discussing twenty-first-century challenges that include nanotechnology, the role of citizens in technological decisions, and the technologies of human enhancement.

An Essay on Technology, Society, and the Imagination

With a new afterword by the author

The underground has always played a prominent role in human imaginings, both as a place of refuge and as a source of fear. The late nineteenth century saw a new fascination with the underground as Western societies tried to cope with the pervasive changes of a new social and technological order. In Notes on the Underground, Rosalind Williams takes us inside that critical historical moment, giving equal coverage to actual and imaginary undergrounds. She looks at the real-life invasions of the underground that occurred as modern urban infrastructures of sewers and subways were laid, and at the simultaneous archaeological excavations that were unearthing both human history and the planet’s deep past. She also examines the subterranean stories of Verne, Wells, Forster, Hugo, Bulwer-Lytton, and other writers who proposed alternative visions of the coming technological civilization.

Williams argues that these imagined and real underground environments provide models of human life in a world dominated by human presence and offer a prophetic look at today’s technology-dominated society. In a new afterword written for this edition, Williams points out that her book traces the emergence in the nineteenth century of what we would now call an environmental consciousness—an awareness that there will be consequences when humans live in a sealed, finite environment. Today we are more aware than ever of our limited biosphere and how vulnerable it is. Notes on the Underground, now even more than when it first appeared, offers a guide to the human, cultural, and technical consequences of what Williams calls "the human empire on earth."

An Evolving Polarity

Genetically modified food, art in the form of a phosphorescent rabbit implanted with jellyfish DNA, and robots that simulate human emotion would seem to be evidence for the blurring boundary between the natural and the artificial. Yet because the deeply rooted concept of nature functions as a cultural value, a social norm, and a moral authority, we cannot simply dismiss the distinction between art and nature as a nostalgic relic. Disentangling the cultural roots of many current debates about new technologies, the essays in this volume examine notions of nature and art as they have been defined and redefined in Western culture, from the Hippocratic writers’ ideas of physis and techne [note: bar over e] and Aristotle’s designation of mimetic arts to nineteenth-century chemistry and twenty-first century biomimetics. These essays--by specialists of different periods and various disciplines--reveal that the division between nature and art has been continually challenged and reassessed in Western thought. In antiquity, for example, mechanical devices were seen as working “against nature”; centuries later, Descartes not only claimed the opposite but argued that nature itself was mechanical. Nature and art, the essays show, are mutually constructed, defining and redefining themselves, partners in a continuous dance over the centuries.ContributorsBernadette Bensaude-Vincent, Horst Bredekamp, John Hedley Brooke, Dennis Des Chene, Alan Gabbey, Anthony Grafton, Roald Hoffmann, Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann, William R. Newman, Jessica Riskin, Heinrich Von Staden, Francis Wolff, Mark J. Schiefsky Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent is Professor of History at the University of Paris X. She is the author of A History of Chemistry and other books. William R. Newman is Ruth Halls Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. He is the coeditor of Secrets of Nature (MIT Press, 1999) and author or editor of several other books.

Science and Technology Studies is a flourishing interdisciplinary field that examines the creation, development, and consequences of science and technology in their cultural, historical, and social contexts. The New Handbook of Science and Technology Studies provides a comprehensive and authoritative overview of the field, reviewing current research and major theoretical and methodological approaches and analyzing emergent issues in a form that is accessible to new and established scholars from a range of disciplines. Handbook chapters review the dominant theoretical perspectives of STS, present the current state of research on a spectrum of topics in the field, analyze changes brought about by the commercialization of science, study interactions between science and other institutions, examine the role of experts and the public in scientific and technological decision making, and consider the cultural and social dimensions of new technologies. The New Handbook of Science and Technology Studies is the third in a series of volumes sponsored by the Society for Social Studies of Science that have defined the field of Science and Technology Studies. It will be an essential resource for scholars in that field as well as for those in such neighboring disciplines as anthropology, history, philosophy, sociology, law, political science, feminist and critical theory, and literary studies.

Vincanne Adams, Warwick Anderson, Brian Balmer, Daneil Barben, Pablo Boczkowski, Steve Breyman, Massimiano Bucchi, Regula Burri, Nancy Campbell, Adele E. Clarke, H.M. Collins, Susan E. Cozzens, Jennifer L. Croissant, Park Doing, Joseph Dumit, Steven Epstein, Henry Etzkowitz, Robert Evans, Erik Fisher, Stefan Fuchs, Sonia Gatchair, Ronald N. Giere, Thomas F. Gieryn, Namrata Gupta, David H. Guston, Adam Hedgecoe, Christopher R. Henke, David Hess, Linda Hogle, Alan Irwin, Sheila Jasanoff, Deborah G. Johnson, David Kaiser, William Keith, Carol Kemelgor, Kyung-Sup Kim, Andrew Lakoff, Bruno Latour, Leah A. Lievrouw, Margaret Lock, Brian Martin, Paul Martin, Philip Mirowski, Cyrus Mody, Federico Neresini, Gonzalo Ordóñez, Nelly Oudshoorn, Trevor Pinch, Alex Preda, Brian Rappert, William Rehg, Marina Ranga, Cynthis Selin, Esther-Mirjam Sent, Steven Shapin, Sergio Sismondo, Laurel Smith-Doerr, Miriam Solomon, Susan Leigh Star, John Stone, Lucy Suchman, Anupit Supnithadnaporn, Charles Thorpe, Stephen Turner, The Virtual Knowledge Studio, Jameson M. Wetmore, Sally Wyatt, Steven Yearley

In Technology as Experience, John McCarthy and Peter Wright argue that any account of what is often called the user experience must take into consideration the emotional, intellectual, and sensual aspects of our interactions with technology. We don't just use technology, they point out; we live with it. They offer a new approach to understanding human-computer interaction through examining the felt experience of technology. Drawing on the pragmatism of such philosophers as John Dewey and Mikhail Bakhtin, they provide a framework for a clearer analysis of technology as experience.Just as Dewey, in Art as Experience, argued that art is part of everyday lived experience and not isolated in a museum, McCarthy and Wright show how technology is deeply embedded in everyday life. The "zestful integration" or transcendent nature of the aesthetic experience, they say, is a model of what human experience with technology might become.McCarthy and Wright illustrate their theoretical framework with real-world examples that range from online shopping to ambulance dispatch. Their approach to understanding human computer interaction -- seeing it as creative, open, and relational, part of felt experience -- is a measure of the fullness of technology's potential to be more than merely functional.

Children ask, "Why is the sky blue?" but the question also puzzled Plato, Leonardo, and even Newton, who unlocked so many other secrets. The search for an answer continued for centuries; in 1862 Sir John Herschel listed the color and polarization of sky light as "the two great standing enigmas of meteorology." In Sky in a Bottle, Peter Pesic takes us on a quest to the heart of this mystery, tracing the various attempts of science, history, and art to solve it. He begins with the scholars of the ancient world and continues through the natural philosophers of the Enlightenment, the empiricists of the scientific revolution, and beyond. The cast of characters includes Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, Kepler, Descartes, Euler, Saussure, Goethe, Rayleigh, and Einstein; but the protagonist is the question itself, and the story tells how we have tried to answer it.

Pesic's odyssey introduces us to central ideas of chemistry, optics, and atomic physics. He describes the polarization of light, Rayleigh scattering, and connections between the appearance of the sky and Avogadro's number. He discusses changing representations of the sky in art, from new styles of painting to new pigments that created new colors for paint. He considers what the sky's nighttime brightness might tell us about the size and density of the universe. And Pesic asks another, daring, question: Can we put the sky in a bottle? Can we recreate and understand its blueness here on earth? This puzzle, he says, opens larger perspectives; questions of the color and brightness of the sky touch on secrets of matter and light, the scope of the universe in space and time, the destiny of the earth, and deep human feelings.